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Filipino nurses frightened to speak out.

I was surprised, happy and proud to read the article about the exploitation of Filipino nurses in your May issue (p12-14). I admire the bravery of Wellington nurse Rosita Ofalia who was interviewed for this article. It is true that lots of us are exploited, not only by our agents but also by our employers. We are afraid to speak out for fear of being placed at any greater risk of exploitation.

I am a registered nurse working in the Northland area. There are quite a few Filipino nurses working in this area, all victims of a heartless agent and a hostile employer. We have all encountered the same problems with this agent--we were ripped off financially and trapped within three-year contracts. We are reluctant to speak out for the fear of bad consequences.

Our contracts were arranged by our agent who explained them to us before we left the Philippines. At that time, it seemed like a good arrangement. The amount we paid ranged from $12,000 to $15,000. This covered only the placement fee and the offer of skilled employment. We paid all the immigration fees on top of this. The agent told us we could break or terminate our work contracts in the event of problems (eg health problems, conflicts etc) or if we were not happy with our jobs. The condition was that we would have to pay back our employer what it had cost him to sponsor us to come to New Zealand. This means the airfare, tuition fee and allowance during our one-month nursing course. These agreeements were all in the contracts, which I believe are not legally binding. The actual amount of money was not specified but our agent told us it would range from $5000 to $6000. This, I believe, is called the "finder's fee".

Unfortunately, the information our agent gave us is proving to be untrue. We have been placed in a workplace where we are not really happy, a workplace which doesn't have a healthy working environment because of too much pressure and stress, combined with an uncaring manager. We have no voice and are afraid to speak out. The management makes us feel inferior. We are forced to work on our days off, even if we don't want to.

Resigning or terminating our contracts is not an option, as our employer has threatened to sue us. If successful, we would be sent back home, together with our families, This threat continues to haunt us. Two of our co-nurses attempted to break their contracts because of conflicts and health problems, and are willing to pay $5000 to $6000, but our employer threatened them. They are very distressed and angry. No one can blame us; we are immigrants to this country. We don't complain or speak up because we want to keep the peace.

Our agent had promised to support us, as a part of our agreement with her, especially if we encountered problems. Instead of helping us, she supports our employer and takes us for granted. The Filipino nurses who have just arrived in New Zealand with the help of this same agent were even forced to buy a car from her, which they can pay off in two to three years. Those cars are a rip-off. How can you expect a newly arrived nurse to pay agency fees and car repayments when they are just getting established? I think everything will remain a problem until somebody is willing to talk or if we Filipinos get together and are brave enough to support each other. We all love New Zealand. We find the country realty good and an ideal place to raise our kids. We love the people too, they are so warm and friendly. I wish the Phillipine Nurses' Society in New Zealand good luck. God bless you always!

RN, Northland * The name of this letter writer has been withheld, in consultation with the co-editors.
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Publication:Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Jul 1, 2005
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